Hot-air balloon crashes, three missing

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iol pic wld Hot Air Balloon Fire~2 AP This photo provided by Nancy Johnson shows what authorities say is a hot-air balloon that wass believed to have caught fire and crashed in Virginia. Picture: Nancy Johnson

Doswell, Virginia -

A hot-air balloon is believed to have caught fire and crashed in the US with three people aboard, state police said on Friday.

Eyewitnesses said they saw the balloon's gondola in flames and heard screams for help.

A pilot and two passengers were believed to be on board, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told a news conference, according to several news media reports.

She said police had not yet found any wreckage but planned to search throughout the night. Severe storms were forecast for the area, she said.

Geller did not immediately respond to a telephone message left by The Associated Press.

Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames and heard people yelling, according to television station WWBT.

“They were just screaming for anybody to help them,” the station quoted her as saying. She said she heard one person screaming, “'Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die.”

The apparent crash happened near the site of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, according to the news reports. The festival was scheduled to begin on Saturday but was holding a special event on Friday for a limited number of people, according to the reports, which said organizers have cancelled the rest of the festival. - Sapa-AP

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